The Five Circles of Prayer for Your Sermon
The Five Circles of Prayer for Your Sermon
Start in the center with yourself and move outward to continued impact.
I have always been told I have the “gift of gab.” If you get me started on something, I like to talk about it! If you’re anything like me, the ultimate thing we like to talk about is Jesus. It’s the best discussion we could ever have. And we are preachers, so it has to be all about Jesus!
But the things we talk about when we teach the Bible—the “what” and the “why”—that’s a whole ‘nother question. We have so many directions we can go. So many things our culture is talking about. The places our teaching series have brought us. The things we are seeing in the passage we’re studying. Sometimes it can get confusing, even overwhelming if we let it.
So I have a question for you … When you think about preaching a sermon, what’s the first thing you think about?
I can pretty much guarantee that almost none of us answered “prayer.” (Except, of course, if you already read the title of the article).
When we think about preaching, we think about the scriptures, the preacher, the exegesis, or the hermeneutics. We think about the lives we are sharing the message with. Along the way, we think about the illustrations or the pacing of the message.
But we often forget the urgent need for prayer when we are putting a sermon together. It’s been said that prayer is not about getting your will done in heaven, but linking up hands with God to see his will done on earth. At its best, a sermon informs but also drives people toward seeing God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth and in our communities, as it is in heaven.
With that in mind, it’s even clearer to me that we have to spend some time reflecting on prayer as it relates to our preaching.
Here are five specific areas that I pray for, every time I prepare a sermon. Think of your sermon prayers as a concentric circle, starting in the center (praying for yourself and your family), and then moving to the outer circle (praying for continued impact).
Pray for Yourself and Your Family
For many pastors, we have long lists of prayer needs. We have our own immediate family and friends, along with our congregation to think about. Unlike any other epoch in history, we have immediate access to everyone, all the time, through modern technology. But it is absolutely essential that a preacher takes time to pray for themselves, their families, and their present circumstances.
Every time we speak, we bring ourselves and our lives into the pulpit. I’ve always been told that God is more concerned with the minister than the ministry, and I believe that. How much more, then, should we take time before even cracking the Bible open, to link up hands with God? We need to remember who he is and what he’s done for us and take time to lift up ourselves, our families, and the things that are weighing upon our hearts, souls, and minds. I encourage you to never neglect yourself and your family in prayer. Jesus loves you, and he doesn’t neglect you or your needs!
Pray for Revelation
God has given us his Word to reveal to us who he is and what he is all about. Sometimes we get it confused, and we start to think that our sermon preparation is first and foremost about putting together a great teaching. Something powerful. Something that moves the needle. We watch other teachers and preachers and think, I’ve got to make this as clever and as deep as I can! But that’s secondary. Our sermon preparation is primarily about God revealing himself to us, in us and, ultimately, through us.
Just like the Apostle Paul, we should be praying for revelation.
This is how Paul asked for prayer from the church in Ephesus. He said, “And for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel,” (Eph. 6:19). Did you notice that last phrase, “to make known the mystery of the gospel”? Paul is asking for revelation so he can proclaim God’s truth. We all know the Apostle Paul is like the Lebron James of preachers. So if Paul reached out and asked for prayer for revelation, I know we should as well!
Pray for Power and Boldness
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’re a preacher, and when you read that verse from Ephesians, you probably thought to yourself, Fusco better not leave out the first part of the prayer request!
I agree, I couldn’t have left it out if I tried! Paul asked for prayer that he would open his mouth boldly and clearly explain the gospel. I don’t think many of us have the impression that Paul struggled with boldness. But he asks the Ephesians for prayer for himself that he might speak boldly, that he would be clear and effective.
My friends, we must pray for power and boldness in our preaching. Alistair Begg, a preacher I admire and have had the pleasure of preaching alongside at conferences before, has said that we should “pray ourselves hot.” I love the way he says that. Oftentimes, we forget that great preaching doesn’t just “happen.” We need to train before the race!
I love that when Spurgeon would take people through the New Park Street Church, he would take them to a basement prayer room where people were always on their knees interceding for the church. He said it was the boiler room of the ministry!
Imagine if we and our entire congregations prayed for the power of the Holy Spirit to undergird and infill the teaching of the Word and to give us a holy boldness in delivering God’s heart to the listeners. What would God do?
Pray for the Hearers and their Response
As a pastor, it’s so freeing to remember that long before I step into the pulpit, God knows exactly who will hear the message. And it gets even better. He not only knows who will hear it, but what is going on in their lives, their concerns, fears, and joys, their victories and defeats. The true and living God also knows exactly what they need to hear and how both the words and the nuances of our proclamation will land.
When we think about that, we realize it’s very important that we spend time praying for the hearers of the message. The Lord knows the number of hairs on every head of every person seated in the sanctuary or watching on a screen, in which we get the pleasure of preaching. He wants to do a transformational work in each of their lives. So we must seek him for each one of them.
But let’s not stop there. We pray for the hearers, but we also pray for how they will respond to the message. At Crossroads Community Church, we always say that we want to “Simply Respond to Jesus.” The Lord desires by his Spirit to put feet on our faith in infinite ways. We want the Lord to do all that he desires in each person’s life, and that requires both their listening and their response to what they hear.
Pray for Continued Impact
One of the craziest things about preaching in this generation is the infinite reproducibility of our messages. A sermon that you preached on a particular Sunday can be heard or watched at any given time by anyone, anywhere. “Back in the day” when I was first cutting my teeth in ministry, it was a big deal if a church had a tape ministry, and it was beyond amazing if their messages ended up on the radio. But for most of us, we prepared diligently, preached a sermon, and that was the end of it. As soon as it was over, it was gone into the ether.
Today is a totally different era. We live in a day of on-demand content with television, radio, podcasts, social media, and more, available to anyone at any time. The church can (and, I believe, should) be right in the middle of that reality.
To see the greatest impact from our messages, we have to realize the content is not localized to a specific time and place.
We live in a decentralized culture. People are coming to church less and less, but still want to experience the inspired teaching of God’s Word in whatever way they feel comfortable. In your sanctuary, there are people who hear the message, take some notes, and hopefully reflect back on them sometime later. In today’s culture, whether it’s an iPhone or a multi-camera broadcast, our messages can do so much more when they “live on” far beyond our real-time presentation in our worship gatherings.
As we embrace all the ways we can allow God to spread the messages we preach throughout our community and our world, we should be praying for the continued impact of our messages. I love praying specifically that the Lord would give his Word that comes from my mouth legs beyond the literal services that I preach. Just like in our sanctuary, God knows exactly who will tune into and hear our sermons on a website, podcast, Youtube, Facebook, radio, or television. God knows exactly who will see that quote-post from your sermon or that sermon video snapshot that sits on your social media.
When you think about the amount of impact a message can make nowadays, it’s totally amazing and humbling to consider all the ways God can use it! We need to pray that each message will have a continued impact because God is in the business of long-term, sustained results.
Don’t miss the fact that much of the New Testament was distributed in the very way we are talking about. Along with being God-breathed, inspired, and infallible, it started out as a simple letter or a historical record. But God used it a million times more than any of the writers could have ever imagined! The Apostle Paul’s sermons are still inspiring people today. Not only that, we are still getting our minds blown by sermons of preachers like Spurgeon who went home to be with Jesus long ago.
So be encouraged, as we pray and preach for his glory, it’s not a week-by-week thing. We are in this for the long haul. Our messages will not only impact our church for today and our community tomorrow, they will have a continued impact long after we go home to be with Jesus.